Annual parties in China

With Chinese New Year right around the corner, the annual ritual of burning a full month on corporate annual parties has thankfully come to a close. Here I’m jotting down some observations about the practice.

First off, to state the obvious – Chinese New Year (CNY), which usually lands somewhere in January/February is a big deal. The whole country shuts down for about a week, as literally hundreds of millions of people scramble to get back home for family gatherings. For corporate life, right before CNY annual bonuses have usually just been decided; there are a lot of year-end business summaries, presentations and discussions.

And then there are the annual parties, which occur at every level of the org. Tencent, for example, has a corporate annual party (tickets are raffled) usually held at a sports stadium, where key executives take part in some performances. Then the business units will have their own respective parties, trickling down to the departments / teams.

There are 3 typical components of any party:

  • The performances, usually singing / dancing acts, and often modestly budgeted mini-films. Usually each sub-department provides one act
  • Prize raffles, which occur throughout the night, with each prize’s sponsor (a “boss”, partner team etc.) clearly identified. A current-gen max-spec iPhone is a typical good prize, while grand prizes can go quite a bit higher. If a “boss” (say, a director level manager) happens to win a prize, there can be a loud chant of “double”, which means the “boss” is supposed to re-draw the raffle and double the reward out of their own pocket
  • Drinking and toasting. For mid-level managers and above, this feels like the main function of the night: an elaborate and potentially stressful ritual of toasting and hazing, accompanied by private conversations. These conversations are often powerful bonding moments where important business alignments are forged / reinforced. It’s one huge networking and alliance-building session facilitated by a lot of alcohol

The reason I said at the beginning that a full month is consumed by these annual parties at various levels is because of the invitation format. All these parties can have guests external to the org, and it is important to pay respect (and who you send to the party shows your level of respect to the host). If your work depends on a web of relationships with other departments at the company, you may be expected to attend a whole host of parties to oil these relationships. Which ones you go (and skip) reflect your priorities.

At the ground level, these parties are rare moments for the team to vent and let off some steam. At the studio/team level party (usually the smallest and most intimate party you attend), many people get very, very drunk. Subordinates team up and get their team leads drunk. Disciplines which feel they have been under the whip of another discipline (say, game design barking orders at engineering and art, as is the norm in Chinese studios) extract revenge. The next day often is still a work-day in theory.

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